Startup stories, of late, have become about products, funding, tie-ups, money; who bought what, who’s doing what and who’s paying what. Somewhere in this constant information coming our way, we’re forgetting what set it all in motion. A hungry, risk-loving, dreamer: the entrepreneur. Forget the what; let’s look for the why. Why did he start this? What’s driving him? What were the influences that made him who he is? Like many of you, we at YourStory, are suckers for real, no-holds-barred stories. And we’re going back to the basics with our new series: Startup Stories for the Soul.
Here’s the first in this series, the story of Advitiya Sharma and what drove him to housing.com. I had a heartfelt conversation with him; he laughed, talked and occasionally, was overcome by emotion. Here is Advitiya’s story as told by him. I hope you find some meaning, and revisit your own journey while reading this story, just as I did.
Jammu, and Advitiya’s Grandfather:
“A lot of things led to what I am doing today at Housing. A major part of it comes from my upbringing in Jammu. As a child I was influenced deeply by two people – my grandfather and father. In Jammu, the culture of renting was not prevalent while I was growing up. We were a joint family living together. My granddad was the most passionate person I know. He was a writer and poet. He won the Sahitya Akademi Award, his poems were aired on Doordarshan, and many plays were made on his stories. I think my granddad was a little mad (with a fond chuckle). He built a room for himself behind the house where we stayed. When he got into his writing mood, he’d lock himself in this room for days and days. After a few days he would come out with a paper in his hand and whatever this paper contained was soon a play, or aired on radio or something. I could see the results of these sudden bursts of passion on the papers in his hands. What I could never see, though, was the intense hard work that he put into them inside that room. The only tangible evidence was the sheets of papers he came out with. I could feel the germ he had, this mad passionate germ of his suddenly become so important to a lot of people. Back then, I remember telling my father, ‘Papa, I will also do what I love,’ as I saw, and learnt from, the abundance of love and passion within my grandfather. Today I do things I am crazy about; this comes from my grandfather. I remember him locking himself up, and screaming and shouting at others at home when he wanted to be in his work–room, but was delayed. My grandfather used to call me Jammu ka Raja. He had a lot of pride in me; somewhere I think the sense of security as a person and as a human being for me comes from these early days.
My father is a neurosurgeon; in fact he was the first neurosurgeon in Jammu. He set up the neurosurgery unit in Jammu. I saw him toil endlessly. Whenever I visited him in the hospital, I’d see him working non-stop, tirelessly training his staff and junior doctors. Every day, he wanted to give, to teach and to bring the best practices for people. Also, one thing that stayed with me was seeing him read. At night he would retire to his room and open up a book on medicine and read. He did that every day. He has done this for the last 25 years. He wants to learn, improve and constantly update himself on the best practices of neurosurgery.
I once asked my father, after he had operated for 18 hours, on two guys who had gotten into a severe bike accident, “Don’t you get tired?” He replied, “When I look at the expectant faces of the attendants, hoping that I will come out of the operation theatre and give them good news, all tiredness disappears. It drives me, and seeing them cry with happiness is the biggest reward for what I do.” My father had a strong desire to help, and this has shaped me. The desire to help fuels my soul too. I would also like to mention here that my mother was also a doctor but she left her practice after I was born. I have learnt about love, empathy and selflessness from her. Just talking about her brings tears to my eyes.
IIT and Aerospace Engineering:
My parents were in Saudi Arabia for a bit and I remember in those days, the detergent Tide had the offer going of a digital watch free with every packet. I coerced my mother into buying as many packets of Tide as possible and would open up and break all the free digital watches. I guess I was interested in Maths and Technology from very early on. Also, when I was in 11th and 12th, news of Kalpana Chawla was big in India. Many of my relatives were in Chandigarh and Kalpana Chawla was also from there, so most of our conversations were about her, NASA etc. That time, I decided I would become an astronaut and go to NASA. With all these dreams, I enrolled for Aerospace Engineering at IIT. Very soon into attending classes, I realized that I did not want to learn how to make airships, but how to fly them. It was like, “I want to fly the damn thing not build it!” But, my engineering has come in useful; when our investors ask us, “How will you be able to achieve this?” I reply, “This is not rocket science, and I am a rocket science engineer.” IIT Bombay is a place that lets you explore; with so many different people coming together with their own individual experiences, it’s a whole new level of exposure. It’s a place that opens your mind; we students enter with raw fuel, and it converts this into powerful processed fuel that can be put into jet engines of growth. It helped me sieve out a lot of my own answers in my own way. It’s a transformative experience. I am so grateful to IIT for shaping my thinking further.
No time to waste, let’s start it up!
I have a hunger to learn, to figure out problems in my own way. I might make mistakes…but those mistakes will make me better. They have. With due respect, I did not want to become an analyst in a big firm where I have to learn what others have learnt. I wanted to learn things, see things and in my own way and in my own time. Khud sochana hai, samajhna hai. We only have one life after all. Starting up was a natural process.
Real estate is a basic necessity, an important part of everyone’s life. We all need places to stay, we all have bought or will buy houses, have rented out and rented in; but still this space remains most screwed up for some demonic reasons. There is no efficiency, clarity and most importantly no transparency. We all are looking for transparency, isn’t it? For me, Housing.com is an extension of what I have been brought up to think and do. It’s a way of helping millions of people, and do it with the same germ that my grandfather had. It gives me purpose and meaning. The question I ask is, “Did we make a difference?” I remember, this young girl from Bangalore, sending an email, saying “Thank you Advitiya; at Housing.com, we found the exact house we wanted. My grandmother is 70 years old, and she falls ill very often, so we needed a place close to hospitals and we found it through your neighborhood search application.” I was overwhelmed; I realized this is what we are doing. This mail meant everything to me. What we are creating is powerful. By giving this into the hands of people we are giving them a chance to build and shape an important part of their lives.